Opinion by Ray D’Cruz
Australian independent MP Rob Oakeshott has revealed that the Gillard Government is close to finalising the creation of a debates commission. The creation of an independent commission was part of the deal negotiated by Oakeshott and fellow independent MP Tony Windsor when they agreed to support Julia Gillard’s minority Labor Government following the 2010 election.
It was almost certainly the politicking about the debates during that 2010 election that led the two independents to include this reform as part of their deal. That election featured an array of unedifying and self-serving positions from the major parties about how many debates should be conducted, in what format and when. It demonstrated the need for a debates commission, as we then wrote.
Election Debates has been arguing for the creation of an independent debates commission for some time. We’ve laid out principles for Australian Leaders’ Debates that would help meet the two aims of election debates: to engage and inform voters. The final principle – principle 8 – is perhaps the most important. It stresses that the debates commission should be independent.
There is a risk that Australia will look to the US lead and clone the bipartisan Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD, charged with overseeing US Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates, is comprised of senior Democrat and Republican figures. Cloning this model would only guarantee that the public bickering heads indoors. That might be attractive for the parties, but it doesn’t provide any confidence that the debates would vigorously pursue the goals of engaging and informing voters. It would be a risk for Australia to follow the bipartisan model as we’ve noted before.
If we want real debates with depth and analysis, featuring the right leaders and topics, we need an independent model. Surely Mr Oakeshott and Mr Winsdor should know the value of independence.